4 Worst Sentence Constructions


When writing a novel, picture book or other story, there are sentence constructions you should avoid and revise out when you copyedit. Here’s my top 5 list of the Worst Sentence Constructions.

  1. Would
    Example: We would take walks daily. We would start at our house and we would go toward the lake and then we would circle back around.
    Why it’s bad: This construction is past tense, but talks about something habitual. Rarely does this type of summary narrative work because it’s too general and has the annoying repetition of “would.” Instead, give the reader one succinct memory of a special day.
  2. As
    Example: As the sun came up, she ate her toast and jelly.
    Why it’s bad:

    • “As” implies that two events happen simultaneously, and yes, sometimes they do. But the construction is often overused. Please make sure that the events are simultaneous and not sequential. Here, it would be better to rewrite it this way (which also includes more sensory details and better verbs):
      The sunrise spread a red stain over the sea. Maria crunched her dry toast and wished for jelly.
    • Or, “As” is used to summarize something that covers a long period of time, such as a sunrise.
    • Finally, writers who tend to use the “As” construction badly, use it frequently. It’s a tic that is annoying. I just read a paragraph from one writer and there are four “as” and two more “as if”. Too much!
  3. To be verbs: is, are, has, had, am (and so on)
    Example: It was sad.
    Why it’s bad:
    To be verbs indicate a state of being; they do not indicate action. Great writing focuses on action, especially in picture books for kids. Instead replace To Be verbs with strong active verbs.

    Let’s rewrite and give the sentence both a strong subject and strong verb:
    Grandmother wiped tears from her wrinkled cheeks.

  4. Speech tags other than “said”

    Example: “Look out,” she blurted.
    “Look out,” she moaned.
    “Look out,” she hiccuped.

    Why it’s bad: I know that students are often taught to replace “said” with other words, but it rarely works in professional writing. It’s a great exercise for a thesaurus, but not for great writing. For commercial fiction, using other speech tags draws attention to the tag, instead of the dialogue where you want the reader to pay attention. Only use alternates when it’s imperative to do so.

    Rewrites–you have a couple options here, each with a slightly different emphasis. An alternative may work–but be sure you need it :
    “Look out!”
    “Run!” she screamed.
    “Fool, look out,” she said.

1 Comment
  • Kristina Stanley
    October 10, 2011

    I have a check list that keeps growing with things to review when revising a manuscript.

    I’ll be adding the four worst sentence constructions to my list.

    Thanks for tips.